This post is authored by Kimball Banks, Jodi A. Barnes, Maria Franklin, William A. White, Anna Agbe-Davies, Thomas Cuthbertson, Sarah Herr, J.W. Joseph, Edward Morin, Burr Neely, Holly Norton, and Tsim Schneider
Two years ago, representatives of the American Cultural Resources Association (ACRA), the Society of Black Archaeologists (SBA), the Society for American Archaeology (SAA), and the Society for Historical Archaeology SHA) formed a task force to examine the treatment of Black Heritage resources in archaeology and historic preservation across the U.S. The formation came about because of and following George Floyd’s murder, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the increasing focus on decolonization in archaeology. The results of the task force’s activities, results, and recommendations are presented in a white paper and report, links to which are present at the end of this summary.
The task force had two major goals. The first was to compile and analyze data on a range of SHPOs’ practices with respect to Black Heritage Resources, including identification and management of Black cultural resources, implementation of diversity initiatives, and consultation with Black stakeholders. Based on the results, the second goal was to provide recommendations to SHPOs on ways to strengthen and improve their objectives, practices, and endeavors related to racial diversity and inclusion.
One of the main ways that the task force collected data was through two surveys circulated to the National Council of State Historic Preservation Offices (NCSHPO) and the National Association of State Archaeologists (NASA). Survey respondents represented all of the major geographical regions of the contiguous U.S. states, as well as Guam and Puerto Rico (Figure 1). Survey questions addressed the following major themes:
- cultural/ethnic affiliation of resources
- historic context studies and MPDFs
- national and state registers of historic properties
- database management
- representation and consultation
- community outreach
- African American Burial Grounds Network Bill
Figure 1. Number of Survey Respondents by Region
Based on the results of the survey, the task force came up with a range of recommendations. In general, the task force encourages State Historic Preservation Offices (SHPO) to implement goals to diversify state inventories, increase engagement with Black communities and preservationists, help Black communities to build capacity in heritage preservation practices, and provide guidance in documenting Black historic sites and cultural resources. The task force also provided specific recommendations on initiatives to address diversity and inclusion in historic preservation for African Americans and other people of African descent. As a case in point, to achieve the broader goals of increasing the number of Black properties in state inventories, and nominated to the National Register, there were four specific recommendations:
- Argue eligibility determinations for Black heritage sites with more nuance, through multidisciplinary research (including oral history research) and by engaging with descendant communities.
- Work with preservationists to provide training, support, and grants to Black communities in preparing National Register nominations.
- If applicable, encourage Black communities, or consultants collaborating with Black stakeholders, to nominate Black heritage sites to the National Register as Traditional Cultural Properties (TCP) as appropriate.
- In partnership with Black communities, create statewide initiatives to prioritize the documentation and evaluation of Black historic properties.
To learn more about the Black Heritage Resources Task Force’s goals, methods, research results, and recommendations, please consult the summary white paper and longer in-depth report here.